Alex Pareene

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I have far fewer concerns about Net Neutrality than I do about cable providers. We’re warned that innovation in the sector will be stymied now that throttling is illegal, but we seem to get electricity each day just fine. But even those who didn’t necessarily oppose the FCC’s decision can see some clouds in the commission’s bold call. Two such worried opinions follow.


From Tim Harford at the FInancial Times:

This kind of product sabotage is far older than the internet itself. The French engineer and economist Jules Dupuit wrote back in 1849 that third-class railway carriages had no roofs, not to save money but to “prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from travelling third class”. Throttling, 19th-century style.

But imagine that a law was introduced stipulating “railway neutrality” – that all passengers must be treated equally. That might not mean a better deal for poorer passengers. We might hope that everyone would ride in comfort at third-class prices, and that is not impossible. But a train company with a monopoly might prefer to operate only the first-class carriages at first-class prices. Poorer passengers would get no service at all. Product sabotage is infuriating but the alternative – a monopolist who screws every customer equally – is not necessarily preferable.

Fast lanes and slow lanes are a symptom of this market power but the underlying cause is much more important. The US needs more internet service providers, and the obvious way to get them is to force cable companies to unbundle the “last mile” and lease it to new entrants.

Alas, in the celebrated statement announcing a defence of net neutrality, the FCC also specifically ruled out taking that pro-competitive step. The share prices of cable companies? They went up.•


From Alex Pareene at Gawker:

Don’t get me wrong. Regulating broadband as a utility is (in my opinion) the correct policy. This is as close as Washington gets to a victory for the forces of “good.” I would just urge everyone to keep in mind that the forces of good in this instance won not because millions of people made their voices heard, but because the economic interests of a few giant corporations aligned with the position of those millions of people. And I say that not simply to be a killjoy (though I do love being a killjoy), but because if anything is to change, we musn’t convince ourselves that actual victory for the masses is possible in this fundamentally broken system. Please don’t begin to believe that the American political establishment is anything but a corrupt puppet of oligarchy.

American politicians are responsive almost solely to the interests and desires of their rich constituents and interest groups that primarily represent big business. Casual observation of American politics over the last quarter-century or so should make that clear, but if you want supporting evidence, look to the research of Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels, and Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page. Gilen and Page’s conclusions are easily summed up: “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Political battles are won when the rich favor them. America’s rich have lately become rather progressive on certain social issues, and those issues have rather suddenly gone from political impossibilities to achievable dreams.•


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Barbara Walters proved to be just as good as the men in the media world, but, sadly, no better. More Joan Lunden than Joan Didion, she didn’t enlighten but entertained, sinking gleefully along with the culture, participating in its descent. The opening of a Walters takedown at Salon, on the day she announced her retirement, by the consistently and delightfully petulant Alex Pareene:

“Barbara Walters has announced her retirement from journalism, a profession she claims to have been practicing for more than 50 years. Walters, the former co-host of the Today show, ABC World News, 20/20, and current co-host of The View, is a national icon and a pioneer, and probably as responsible as any other living person for the ridiculous and sorry state of American television journalism. She has announced her retirement a year in advance, so that a series of aggrandizing specials can be produced celebrating her long and storied career. So let’s get things started off right, by reminding everyone how her entire public life has been an extended exercise in sycophancy and unalloyed power worship.”


“Baby, baby, baby, you have Bieber Fever”:

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"Anderson’s responses were still a good distillation of TED’s ideology." (Image by Steve Jurvetson.)

I enjoy a lot of TED lectures and have posted some here, but I highly recommend “Don’t Mention Income Inequality Please, We’re Entrepreneurs,” a smart Salon article by Alex Pareene about the wealthy organization’s unspoken politics. The opening:

“There was a bit of a scandal last week when it was reported that a TED Talk on income equality had been censored. That turned out to be not quite the entire story. Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist with a book out on income inequality, was invited to speak at a TED function. He spoke for a few minutes, making the argument that rich people like himself are not in fact job creators and that they should be taxed at a higher rate.

The talk seemed reasonably well-received by the audience, but TED ‘curator’ Chris Anderson told Hanauer that it would not be featured on TED’s site, in part because the audience response was mixed but also because it was too political and this was an ‘election year.’

Hanauer had his PR people go to the press immediately and accused TED of censorship, which is obnoxious — TED didn’t have to host his talk, obviously, and his talk was not hugely revelatory for anyone familiar with recent writings on income inequity from a variety of experts — but Anderson’s responses were still a good distillation of TED’s ideology.”

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